Playlist: Powerful Voices
By Heather ShenTweet
Photo: Vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, who perform with chamber group A Far Cry in Ann Arbor on April 12, 2017. Photo by Bonica Ayala.
My parents started me on piano and violin at a young age, so I’ve been exposed to classical music for almost all of my life. I grew up listening to Pavarotti and Andrea Bocell, and it wasn’t until later that I began exploring more modern Pop and Rock genres. Throughout the years, I’ve listened to most genres of music, including country, gospel, classic rock to name a few. But, funnily enough, I didn’t truly appreciate the human voice until I got strep in 10th grade and lost my voice for a week and a half. It was a classic case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone. The week and half of not being able to communicate with others or sing along to my favorite songs made me realize just how important and powerful our voices are.
In the playlist below, I’m collecting some examples of how we convey emotions, ideas, and beliefs through voice, whether it’s through music, spoken word, or through countless other ways we use our voices.
Whitney Houston’s National Anthem
Our national anthem is one of my favorite tunes, not only because of its beautiful melody, but also because the words have the capacity to instill a sense of pride in the foundations and values of this nation. I like this Whitney Houston rendition because of its simplicity, and yet, its power.
I have always loved spoken word, the way the combination of rhythm and language creates a special kind of emotion. Here is just one example, by College National Poetry Slam champion Neil Hillborn. Joey focuses on the disparity in access to mental illness treatment and on the role that privilege plays in our mental health system.
I didn’t appreciate opera very much growing up, mostly because it was usually in another language, and I had no sense of the stories within the pieces. I’ll be honest, I still don’t know most of the time. However, as an adult, I’ve come to be able to feel the pieces even when I don’t understand the words. So, here is Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun Dorma. For this one, sit back, close your eyes, and feel the strength of his voice.
Voices and Orchestral Works
I know no better way to demonstrate the power and range of our voices than with Carmina Burana. I’m sure you’ve heard parts of this work, which has made appearances in popular culture including but not limited to college football games and commercials.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a dream speech is iconic. The timbre of his voice, its pace, amplify its incredibly potent themes. On the other hand, Robin Williams’s Make Your Life Spectacular speech is softly spoken and wistful; it drifts over as his message sinks in. These two entirely different approaches give a sense of the capacity of the voice to inspire.
Popular song, and then, something in between
Kanye West’s Say You Will, featuring the vocalist and composer Caroline Shaw, explores the sounds that the voice is capable of making in combination with technology.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Kanye West, but you may not yet know of Caroline Shaw. Caroline Shaw, a Grammy-award-winning singer, violinist, and composer. From yodeling to throat singing, Caroline Shaw and Roomful of Teeth expand the capacity of the voice across genres and singing techniques.
This great diversity in sound is showcased in the group’s performance with NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, shown below. Both the artist and the group are known for continuously exploring the boundaries of the human voice, encompassing both the breadth and depth of our voices. Their works embody the impact and the amazing variety of the human voice. Your chance to check them out in person is coming up. They perform with chamber group A Far Cry in Ann Arbor on April 12, 2017.
Jae Cosmos Lee, a violinist with A Far Cry, has also been kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about his work and inspirations:
A Far Cry with Roomful of Teeth will perform at Rackham Auditorium on April 12, 2017 at 7:30pm.